It can hardly be considered a surprise that Germany approach the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006 as one of the bookies' favourites for the coveted trophy. The side coached by Maren Meinert took top spot at the U-19 World Championship in Thailand two years ago, and this latest generation of wunderkinder is eager to emulate that success.
The Germany supremo takes charge of an intriguing squad for the forthcoming tournament, as the 21 players have already won two European tournaments this summer, although not as a single entity. The German U-21s claimed the Nordic Cup in Norway, while the U-19s won the UEFA European Championship in Switzerland. The U-20 squad Meinert has taken to Russia includes 12 of the U-19 starlets, with the remaining nine drawn from the side which defeated the USA in the U-21 Final in Froyland.
However, Meinert is not convinced by the notion that the European Championship plus the Nordic Cup triumph automatically adds up to the world crown. "We'll have to see if that sum is correct," she told FIFA.com when asked about the winning formula. "It was definitely a good and successful way of preparing and it's been a real confidence booster. But it doesn't mean one plus one automatically equals two. We still have to show what we're made of, because everyone here is looking to put one over on us, which makes it doubly difficult."
The tournament will certainly indicate whether the German coach got her sums right when she picked her squad. Preparations have been inevitably brief, although the coaching staff are making the most of the limited time available. "We've already held two sessions, the first working on defence, and the second just for enjoyment and building team spirit."
Alongside technical and tactical ability, the squad's determination to succeed must rate in its favour. "Once you've tasted success and understand that feeling, you crave it more and more," Meinert reasons. The former midfielder speaks with authority on this subject, having won the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003.
Striking a balance
Meinert regards her job as dividing broadly into two main areas, on the one hand progressing as far as possible in the tournament, and on the other maintaining her players' overall development.
She said: "If you're coaching the U-20 or U-19s, your biggest goal is to see as many as possible progress to the senior side. But once you've arrived at a tournament, you obviously want to do as well as possible. It all depends on how well the players come on. You gain in experience with every match, so the further you go, the more experienced you collect."
The defending champions play the first of their three group matches on Friday in Moscow against Korea DPR , always dangerous and unpredictable opponents at women's tournaments. "They have a technically and tactically disciplined team," Meinert acknowledged. "It definitely won't be easy for us, and we'll have to be extremely patient." However, the Germans will prefer to focus on their own proven strengths to make a good start ahead of meetings with Mexico and neighbours Switzerland.
The squad arrived on Sunday, and provided they can overcome the likes of France, China, the USA, and host nation Russia, cited by Meinert as the leading contenders for the trophy, the Germany party would gladly stay put until 3 September. "We've come here determined to win the World Cup," the coach declares, "or failing that, to do as well as we possibly can."